The Thunder Child

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Vol 1, Issue #10
"Stand By For Mars!"
October, 2006
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The Thunder Child: Star Trek Sourcebook
Star Trek's influence on technology
by Edogawa Ranpo

The resemblance of the Autonomous Benthic Explorer (ABE) to the fictional USS Enterprise came about by accident...its designers were just trying to create the most stable design possible. But the similarity of the two craft spurred them to pay tribute to Star Trek by giving the device the same identification numbers as the starship: "NCC 1701 B".

Those two red pods you see in the photograph are flotation devices, to keep the explorer from tipping over. The lower housing contains the batteries and instruments, such as a digital video camera, a magnometer, and devices to measure conductivity and temperature of seawater at different depths.

In the early 1990s, Barrie Walden started working on a new type of underwater research vehicle, "a small, simple robot to do some of Alvin's routine work." [1] (Alvin is a 3-passenger submersible.) Both are operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. The ABE is a "true" robot, able to move without pilot or tether.

Walden teamed up with Al Bradley, an engineer who had built many deep-sea research devices, and Dana Yoerger. Walden built the 'body', Bradley would build the systems that would operate the submersiblee's motor, camera and sensors, and Yoerger would program the control systems.

After trials runs, the ABE made its first research dive in 1995.

The ABE being lowered over the side.
The ABE is programmed for its specific tasks, then dropped over the side of a ship. It will 'swim' to its destination, and then hover there, gathering information, until its mother ship comes to pick it up again after a passage of time. It is also used to perform research tasks before manned submersibles venture into an area.

Dive to the Deep Ocean, Deborah Kovacs. Raintree Steck-Vaughn. 2000.

Ocean Explorer, A NOAA website
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

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